Stephen William Wilkins (1946 – 2013)

By Colin WardSeptember 19th, 2014


Stephen William Wilkins was born in Melbourne, Australia on 15 February 1946, seven years after his parents’ hasty emigration from Czechoslovakia in 1939 and transit to Melbourne via Trieste where they were married. His father Ken was a businessman and his mother, Charlotte, latterly became a secondary school teacher when Ken died in 1957. In his parents home town of Brno, his grandfather, Arnold Windholtz, ran a pharmacy (droguerie) and his maternal grand parents ran a liqueur factory. He spent his primary schooling days at Preshil Memorial School in Kew, which had very progressive ideas on education. His secondary education took place at Camberwell High School, where he completed his HSC studies in 1963. He completed his BSc (Physics/Mathematics, 1964-67) at the University of Melbourne. Major influences in choosing science as a career were an innate interest in experimenting with simple rigs and chemicals, a joy in the certainty of mathematics, and a fascination with physics sparked by the Professor Harry Messel summer schools that were televised in the early 1960s and which featured astrophysicists such as Professors Fred Hoyle and Herman Bondi.

He began his research career at Melbourne University where he carried out his PhD under Professor JM Cowley, working in the area of diffuse scattering from alloys and the role of long-range interactions. His PhD thesis was entitled: ‘Correlations and Interactions in Binary Alloys’. From 1970 to 1971, during his PhD, he worked as a graduate research assistant in the Department of Physics, Arizona State University.

Following his PhD, he was Operations Research Officer with the Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria (1972-73) and then spent the period 1973-74 working on theoretical problems in X-ray scattering and solid-state physics as a Visiting Research Scholar in the Physics Department at Imperial College (London) under Professor Norman March.


Stephen Wilkins joined CSIRO, Division of Chemical Physics in 1975 as a Research Scientist to fill a vacancy created by the untimely death of Barrie Dawson, a leading crystallographer. He was promoted to Senior Research Scientist in 1978, Principal Research Scientist in 1983, Senior Principal Research Scientist in 1990 and Chief Research Scientist in 1998.

At CSIRO he has worked on a range of theoretical problems in X-ray crystallography including quantum effects in the theory of atomic vibrations, the role of asymmetry in the problem of multiple-scattering (also called ‘extinction’) in structure determination from crystals, and also new approaches to the determination of the atomic structure of molecules from structure-factor magnitudes (also called the ‘phase problem’). This latter work rested on a powerful and very general branch of statistical inference known as ‘information theory’ which has the Maximum Entropy method as a cornerstone. The work of Dr Wilkins and co-workers helped to advance this methodology into the mainstream of crystallography where, when combined with Bayesian methods, it has now has become a very powerful technique for the structure determination of macromolecules, particularly in combination with multiple-anomalous scattering data (MAD).

As a result of a serendipitous encounter at the International Union of Crystallography Congress in Hamburg in 1984 with his former lecturer from Melbourne University days, Professor Jimpei Harada (then of Nagoya University), Steve Wilkins was invited to make a Japanese Society for Promotion of Science Funded visit to Japan the following year to explore possibilities for Australian collaboration with the newly established synchrotron in Japan known as the Photon Factory. The resulting visit (which took place in November 1985), led to a formal invitation for Australia to build and operate a beamline at the Photon Factory. Following much lobbying among Government and the local scientific community, a multi-purpose powder diffractometer (called ‘BigDiff’), conceived by Steve Wilkins, was built at CSIRO in Clayton under his guidance. It was installed and operated at the Photon Factory in 1992 as the Australian National Beamline Facility (ANBF), where it continues to operate.


A major contribution by Steve Wilkins and co-workers lies in the area of hard X-ray phase-contrast imaging where they have made seminal and pioneering contributions including the development of related practical methods and instruments that can use conventional (‘polychromatic’) X-ray sources. This has opened the way for the widespread implementation of hard X-ray phase-contrast imaging in research, and increasingly in industry and medicine.

He has published more than 140 papers (including 100 in refereed journals, and more than 40 papers in books and conference proceedings) plus seven patents taken to PCT stage, of which five have been granted or issued in USA. He has two publications in the prestigious international journal Nature on X-ray phase-contrast imaging with citation numbers of over 500 and 300, respectively. In recognition of his standing in the field he has been invited to give over 50 Invited Lectures and Conference Presentations at international meetings.

As summarised below Steve Wilkins serves on a number of local and international committees, especially relating to synchrotron-based activities, and has held a number of prominent roles in scientific societies.

Steve Wilkins passed away suddenly, on 25 March 2013. He was about to deliver the first in a series of lectures on X-ray science to physics honours students at Monash University.

Honours and awards

For his work in the area of development of new X-ray methods and instruments Steve Wilkins has received a number of awards and honours including:

2008 Appointed Adjunct Professor, School of Physics, Monash University
2003 Appointed Honorary Professor, Department of Physics, Monash University (now School of Physics). Now termed Adjunct Professor
1998 Awarded CSIRO Medal as leader of the X-Ray Phase-Contrast Imaging team
1997 Awarded Walter Boas Medal of the Australian Institute of Physics (shared)
1992 ‘Fonds Herbette’ Visiting Professor, Institut de Cristallographie, Lausanne, Switzerland (May-July)
1990 Guest worker CEA Saclay, France (August)
1988 Monbusho Fellowship to work at The Photon Factory Tsukuba, Japan (4 months)
1985 Society for Promotion of Science Exchange Visit to Japan
1984 Royal Society Guest Research Fellowship, Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics, University of Oxford, UK
1980 Invited Research Worker, Institute Laue – Langevin, Grenoble
1973 Sir Arthur Sims Travelling Scholarship from the University of Melbourne

Professional Bodies


Fellow, Australian Institute of Physics (AIP)


Member Society of Crystallographers in Australia & NZ (SCANZ)
Member Australian X-Ray Analytical Association (AXAA)
Member American Crystallographic Association (ACA)
Member Society of Photonic Instrumentation & Engineering (SPIE)

Offices held

2007 – 09 President, Society of Crystallographers in Australia & New Zealand (SCANZ)
2005 – 07 Vice-President, Society of Crystallographers in Australia & New Zealand (SCANZ)
2002 – 05 Consultant, International Union of Crystallography Commission on Synchrotron Radiation
2000 – 05 SCANZ, Member of Council
2000 – 03 Member, National Committee for Physics Australian Academy of Science
1999-2002 Chairman, International Union of Crystallography Commission on Synchrotron Radiation
1997-2005 Member, National Committee for Crystallography Australian Academy of Science
1990-2002 Member IUCr Commission on Synchrotron Radiation
1986 – 98 SCA Nominations Committee
1981 – 86 SCA Standing Committee for X – Ray Diffraction

Membership of Editorial Boards of Scientific Journals

1999 – 2008 Journal Synchrotron Radiation (Blackwell Munksgaard, Copenhagen, Denmark)
1988- Journal of X Ray Science and Technology (Academic Press, San Diego, USA)

Coordinating and advisory activities

2009 – Member, new Beamline Advisory Panel for Imaging and Medical Beamline, Australian Synchrotron
2009 Reviewer on proposal for 2 new imaging beamlines at the APS
2009 Reviewer for Swedish Research Council Senior Positions
2008 Public Opponent, PhD Thesis Defence (Tomi Tuohimaa) KTH, Stockholm
2008 Member Review Panel, Linnaeus Grants (Sweden)
2006 – Member, Scientific Review Committee for ILP Beamlines at Elettra, Trieste
2005 – Coordinator, Steering Committee for establishment of the International Consortium for Coherent X-Ray Diffractive Imaging (I<CCXD>I) based at ICTP in Trieste, Italy
2005 Chair, Review Committee ID-17 Beamline at ESRF, France (November)
2004 – 2009 Co-Chair, Beamline Advisory Panel (BAP) for the Imaging & Therapy beamline for the Australian Synchrotron
2003 Member, Canadian Foundation for Innovation Review Committee relating to new beamline proposals for the Canadian Light Source (CLS)
2002 – Chairman, Scientific Advisory Committee, X-Ray Technologies Pty Ltd
2001 – 2008 Member, National Synchrotron Advisory Committee (Vic. Govt.)
1999 – 2000 Member, Advisory Committee Monash University Physics Dept.
1998 – 2002 Member Monash Precinct Synchrotron Task Force (MPSTF)
1996 – 2009 Member ChemMatCARS Committee of Australian Synchrotron Radiation Program, Inc. Chair from 2002
1995 – 1998 Australian Coordinator, Monbusho Collaboration Grant for project ‘Studies of Mesoscopic Structure with Synchrotron Radiation’
1990 – 1996 Member Technical and Management Committees of the Australian National Beam-Line Facility at the Photon Factory
1988 – 1993 Principal Investigator, IRD Grant for ‘Production and Characterization of Optoelectronic Materials and Devices’
1986 – 1991 Coordinator, Australia/Japan Bilateral Exchange project ‘Characterization of the Microstructure of Materials Using High – Intensity Sources of X – Rays’ (funded by DITAC)

Organisation of Conferences

2010 Member, Local Organising Committee, Medical Applications of Synchrotron Radiation (MASR-2010) in Melbourne, Victoria
2010 Member Local Organising Committee, 4th Italy-Australia Workshop on Applications of Synchrotron Radiation in Melbourne, Victoria
2010 Member Program Committee, Developments in X-Ray Tomography VII (SPIE) in San Diego, USA
2009 Co-Chair CRYSTAL 26 Organising Committee and Program Committee, Barossa Valley, SA
2009 Member Local Organising Committee and Technical Advisory Committee (SRI-2009) in Melbourne, Victoria
2008 Member, Program Committee, Developments in X-Ray Tomography VI, August, San Diego, USA
2008 Member Advisory Committee, 2nd International Symposium on X-Ray Phase-Contrast Imaging, Yellow Mt, Anhui, China
2007 Member International Program Committee, Coherence 2007, Asilomar, CA, USA
2007 Member Program & Organising Committee, X-Ray Biophotonics Workshop: Facilitating Physicists & Biologists Working Together, Melbourne, Victoria
2007 Convenor, 3rd Italy-Australia Workshop, Future Directions in Spectroscopy and Imaging with Synchrotron Light: New Light Sources, Clayton, Victoria
2006 Member International Program Committee, Developments in X-Ray Tomography V (SPIE) in San Diego, USA
2005 Coordinator and Chair of Program Committee, CRYSTAL 24 held at Marysville, Victoria
2005 Member, International Program Committee, International Workshop on Phase Retrieval and Coherent Diffraction, Porquerolles, France
2004 Member International Program Committee APS Workshop on ‘Emerging Scientific Opportunities using X-ray Imaging’ Chicago, USA
2004 Member International Program Committee 2004 Workshop on Medical Applications of Synchrotron Radiation (MASR2004), Trieste, Italy
2003 Member International Program & Organising Committees 2nd Phase Retrieval Workshop, Cairns, QLD
2002 Member Int. Program Committee, IUCr Congress, Geneva, Switzerland
2002 Member International Program Committee, Crystal Chemistry and Soft-Matter Studied by Synchrotron & Neutron Diffraction – IUCr Satellite meeting, July, Grenoble, France
2001 Co-Chairman Organizing Committee, New Aspects of X-Ray Imaging technology with Synchrotron Radiation Harima International Forum, Himeji, Japan
2000 Co-Chairman, International Workshop on ‘Recent Developments in Medium Sized Synchrotron Radiation Sources – New & Emerging Facilities’, Karlsruhe, Germany
1990 Co – Chairman, Organizing Committee 4th Australian II – VI Semiconductors Conference, Clayton, Victoria
1987 Chairman Organising Committee, ‘International Symposium on Accuracy in Structure Factor Measurement’, Warburton, Victoria
1987 Chairman Organising ‘Committee, Department of Science sponsored Workshop on Uses of Synchrotron Radiation’, Melbourne, Victoria
1986 Member of Organising Committee, AIP Condensed Matter Meeting, Wagga Wagga, NSW


  • Wilkins SW, 2010, Personal communication.

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